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Benjamin Netanyahu reveals annexation plan for West Bank settlements

Israeli prime minister calls for sovereignty over Jordan Valley and illegal outposts across Palestinian territory

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, December 8, 2019. AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, December 8, 2019. AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday revealed plans to annex large areas of the occupied West Bank despite international criticism that it would breach international law and end any hope of a Palestinian state.

"It's time to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and legalise all the Judea and Samaria settlements, those that are in settlement blocks and those outside of them," he said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

The Palestinians seek all of the occupied West Bank, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of their state.

The Jordan Valley makes up about 25 per cent of the West Bank.

It provides much of the territory's food and is one of the few remaining open areas that could be developed by the Palestinians.

Most of the international community considers the outposts, built across the territory after Israel won the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, to be illegal.

But the US has effectively approved Israeli plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing last month that Washington no longer shared the widely held international position that the settlements are illegal.

Mr Netanyahu called on the US to back his annexation proposal, at least for the Jordan Valley, despite widespread condemnation about plans for the unilateral move.

"I want American recognition of our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. It's important," Mr Netanyahu said.

He said he recently discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a meeting in Portugal, without presenting a formal plan.

“I intend to raise the issue with the Trump administration,” the prime minister said.

Mr Netanyahu has said in the past that the wider moves to annex or "legalise" settlements in the occupied West Bank would be in co-ordination with US President Donald Trump and his long-awaited peace plan.

But on Friday, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting a Palestinian state and against "unilateral annexation of territory".

It is a non-binding resolution bill that passed along partisan lines.

In its first resolution on a West Bank annexation, the House said that a two-state solution "can both ensure the state of Israel's survival as a Jewish and democratic state, and fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own".

The US should "discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach", the resolution said.

About 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank alongside 2.6 million Palestinians.

The settlements are regarded as major stumbling blocks to peace.

The Trump administration, with its evangelical Christian base that staunchly backs Israel, has not condemned annexation and rallied behind Mr Netanyahu.

Arab states have continued to make clear that they only support a two-state solution.

That position is based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for peace with Israel based on creation of a Palestinian state.

One of the most vocal critics of the Israeli government's moves has been Jordan, which maintains ties with Israel.

Last month, Jordan’s King Abdullah said ties between the kingdom and Israel were at their lowest point since they signed a peace treaty 25 years ago.

Two territories leased to Israel as part of the peace agreement were returned to Jordan last month, with Amman refusing to renew that part of the pact.

The agreement had allowed Israeli farmers to work in the two zones. Jordan had insisted that the agreement would end when the lease concluded.

Mr Netanyahu's remarks on Sunday, at a conference organised by right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon, came alongside an appeal to rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government and save the time and money involved in elections.

"I have offered to Benny Gantz to join a unity government and today too I'm telling him to join a unity government with me," Mr Netanyahu said. "It's not too late."

The September polls yielded no clear winner, and Wednesday is the last day for a member of Parliament to propose a coalition before the country heads to another vote – the third in a year.

Updated: December 9, 2019 01:31 AM

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